Winter Riding and Summer Planning

Ah, a three-day weekend. Better yet, on Sunday and Monday the weather was mild and dry. This is the time of year I find myself of multiple minds: trying to keep up the miles on the bike to get ready for the upcoming spring randonneuring brevets, and fretting over our summer tandem tour. A long weekend let me indulge both.

Friday morning started out pleasantly as always at the weekly Friday Coffee Club commuter cyclists gathering. The pre-work meetup is nearing its five-year anniversary, which we’ll celebrate later this month.

I’ve been keeping an eye out for the reopening of our original FCC location at Swing’s Coffee on 17th & G NW by the White House. It now looks like July or later according to the Swing’s site. A Baked Joint at 440 K St. NW has been a welcome temporary spot and we’ll continue there.

Friday Coffee Club Jan. 14

Friday Coffee Club Jan. 14

 

Saturday

A typical cold and rainy January day met us. I got out for a nice midday Freezing Saddles ride for a coffee visit with Jerry and Carolyn at Chinatown Coffee.

Rainy Day in DC

Rainy Day in D.C.

 

The rest of the day I worked on our summer tour. This year we’re returning to Colorado, but starting in Albuquerque and finishing in Boulder! The route is here – we start for Santa Fe on July 1 and finish on the 13th, about 950 miles later.  We haven’t ridden in New Mexico before, and in both states we’ll see some new terrain and towns, notably:

  • Santa Fe, Taos and Chama in New Mexico;
  • the Black Canyon of the Gunnison;
  • Monarch Pass to Gunnison;
  • Independence Pass;
  • Aspen and the Rio Grande Trail to Carbondale.

We’ll also return to some favorites: Durango, Silverton, and Kremmling, and another go at hauling the tandem over the wild & wooly Rollins Pass from Winter Park on the final day. This time, big tires are going on the tandem for that doozy.

The route was already drafted – the real work was making hotel reservations and buying our airline tickets. I always feel a little nervous locking down our July trip in mid-January, but it’s also nice to have everything lined up. I’ll make up cue sheets in the coming weeks and figure out the coffee places, bike shops and restaurants in the new towns.

Sunday

The skies cleared and we rode the Spectrum tandem to Frederick, Md. to one of our favorite area shops, the enchanting Gravel & Grind. Mel and James have created something really special and we always enjoy ourselves there. Everything is good (the coffee, food, bikes, stuff, and scene), but especially their welcoming vibe.

James, Mel and Mary

James, Mel and Mary

 

Books for Sale at Gravel & Grind

Books for Sale at Gravel & Grind

 

Mary, James and Me

Mary, James and Me

 

A randonneuring friend of ours has been talking to James about staging a fall randonneur brevet from the shop, so everybody could get some food and drinks and hang out afterwards. I hope it comes true.

The ride was a good one for us, at 117 miles without any extended climbs – perfect for winter when the wind isn’t blowing. Here’s the route on Garmin Connect or you can check it out at Strava.

The ride home was uneventful except for this very cool hawk on the side of River Road, near dusk. It calmly let us take photos. Thanks hawk!

A Hawk Surveys Its Domain

Hawk Surveys Its Domain

 

Monday

Mary and I each had dentist appointments and the skies were gray. I rode my Rivendell Bleriot, which sees far too little use these days, up to Clarendon in Arlington to turn in a very old Mac Mini for recycling (the PowerPC generation, if that rings a bell). The bike, unlike that old Mac, is just as good as ever, though it needs better fenders.

My coupled and repainted Rivendell Bleriot, still in 2007 PBP trim

My coupled and repainted Rivendell Bleriot, still in 2007 PBP trim

 

From there I rode down to the Mall and went to the Martin Luther King Jr. monument, which was busy with visitors — appropriately so on this day.

Twilight at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Twilight at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

 

Our 2013 Colorado Tandem Tour: Part 1

MG did such a good job posting on Chasing Mailboxes about our progress during our July 4-12 Colorado tour (see her posts here) that I waited until we got home to put down my own thoughts about our experience.

We had a great time on this tour, and it marked a new step forward for us as a team: it was the first self-contained touring trip we had done far from home.

We have taken the tandem to randonneuring events in other parts of the U.S. (and France) and ridden self-contained in Virginia and surrounding states near home in Washington, D.C.

Going to Colorado to see friends and ride by ourselves was a new experience. Many questions had to be answered: where to stay, where to ride, how to get the bike to and from our start and end point in Boulder.

I’m happy to say all went well. The time we’ve spent randonneuring and touring helped us a lot in terms of determining the right distances and limiting our gear to the essentials. Our new Co-Motion Java tandem performed flawlessly, the weather co-operated and we were treated well throughout by drivers. In sum — a very fun and satisfying trip.

Summer vacation!

Summer vacation!

First off: Photos! Ours are uploaded at Flickr mine here and MG’s here.

You can see our routes at my Garmin GPS page here.

Prologue

This tour started taking shape over the winter. We were inspired to return to the state after seeing the northern parts during the High Country 1200K randonnee with MG last summer. I previously rode the central mountains on the Bicycle Tour of Colorado in 1997, and wanted to see them again with MG on tandem at a more leisurely pace.

I contacted with our randonneur friends Tim Foon Feldman and HC 1200K organizer John Lee Ellis in Louisville, Colo., near Boulder, to talk over possible routes. Tim has drawn up the Haute Route 1200K randonner course, which I used as a template.

One of our goals was to take advantage of Colorado’s well-maintained dirt roads that the Java tandem would allow us to traverse with larger tires.

With their help I whittled the days into shorter versions with hotel stops. I included one of the six 200K-ish rides that Tim has made up from his 1200K: the 134-mile Trail Ridge 200K from Louisville through Rocky Mountain National Park to Kremmling, Colo.

It would be our first and longest day on the bike, going over the highest point on our tour at 12,200 feet of elevation with about 10,000 feet of climbing.

Route drafting led to hotel reservations, then vacation requests from work and airplane tickets. Colorado is a busy place during the summer — it was essential that we get everything locked in by early May.

We like Southwest Air to Denver because they allow two bags free per person and fly direct from Washington Dulles airport. The Java with S&S couplers broke down into suitcases that we could check without an additional fee.

From Denver a regional transit coach bus is available to Boulder, which lets one avoid renting a car.

We arrived late on July 3 after work. Tim would not let us take the bus and instead picked us up at DLA and took us to his and wife Donna’s lovely house in Louisville. They keep two cats, nice bikes, a lovely back yard and have a keen appreciation for good conversation, food and espresso. Tim likes to ride and ski, Donna likes to ski and hike.

We had a lot to discuss about the outdoors life in the Rocky Mountains.

Tim gets the shot on the Lefthand Canyon climb.

Tim gets the shot on the Lefthand Canyon climb.

After assembling the Co-Motion Java Tandem (provisional name: The Big Cat) on July 4 Tim joined us for a 50-mile checkout ride up Lefthand Canyon to the local holiday gathering. The bike came together well — it was our first time traveling with the Java. Later all of us went to a backyard party in Louisville and watched impressive local fireworks.

4th of July at Lefthand Canyon

4th of July at Lefthand Canyon

On Friday MG and I ventured into Boulder to greet our pals at Vecchio’s Bicicletteria on fashionable Pearl Street, enjoyed espresso at Ozo Coffee and at Atlas, and then rode out to Mary’s Market & Deli in Hygeine. This is something of a local cyclist stop and riders came and went often. Rain stopped us briefly on the way back and then dissipated quickly.

A year later, we're back: Vecchio's Bicicletteria.

A year later, we’re back: Vecchio’s Bicicletteria.

Saturday our tour started. Here’s our rundown, in a review format.

Day 1: Boulder to Kremmling via Lyons, Estes Park and Trail Ridge Road.
Mileage: 134
Road Surface: Paved
Difficulty: High
Conditions: Sunny
Route and elevation profile: here.

Day One: Off to Trail Ridge Road!

Day One: Off to Trail Ridge Road!

We rode this segment as a randonneur permanent ride — The Trail Ridge 200 — with a total time of 14:20 to complete the course. The challenge was to get to the Granby control on the other side of Trail Ridge Road, mile 107, in 11 hours 28 minutes. That seems like plenty of time, but we were on the button most of the day as we slowly climbed the first 70 miles from 5,500 feet to 12,200 feet.

We left just before 7:30 a.m. and Tim joked that we should leave Estes Park, mile 45, by noon. He was not kidding. The climbing to that point, at 7,540 feet, got us there at 11:20 a.m.! We found the long uphills on Rt. 36 very tough. After a quick lunch and drinks at the Safeway, we entered Rocky Mountain National Park for the big push to the top.

The ascent up renowned Trail Ridge Road was at once thrilling and nerve-wracking. Holiday weekend car traffic was heavy and with little shoulder, and dropoffs to our right, I kept one eye forward and one on my rear view mirror. I wanted to ride out in the lane but had to give way often as groups of cars would pass. All this made MG nervous about riding off the edge.

A rest stop on the way up Trail Ridge Road.

A rest stop on the way up Trail Ridge Road.

We stopped at turnouts to regain our composure and catch our breath. As we rose above treeline temperatures fell into the low 50s and the wind picked up — vests and jackets came out for each of us.

Air is getting thin up here. Courtesy MG.

Air is getting thin up here. Courtesy MG.

The mountain and valley views were spectacular! We had never gone that far into the sky on the tandem and the payoff was immense. The kind comments we got at the Alpine Visitor Center store just past the summit were very much appreciated.

A mile from the top. Courtesy MG.

A mile from the top. Courtesy MG.

It was all downhill to Granby, but we had to cover the 37 miles in a little over two hours to stay within the ride time limits. We pressed hard all the way down the twisty descent and through Grand Lake, and arrived with about 12 minutes to spare. There’s nothing like a deadline and a descending profile to get one to go fast!

On our way to Kremmling.

On our way to Kremmling.

After a rest stop in Granby, the rest of the 27-mile route to little Kremmling continued trending downhill. After the busy Trail Ridge Road, we had Highway 40 mostly to ourselves. We thought we had to get to Kremmling before 9 p.m. to get food at the local grill, so I called in an order for 8:45 p.m.

MG and I resolved to make it happen. After a day like this, we were going to be famished and did not want to go to bed hungry.

A soft evening sun bathed our faces as we shot west through Byers Canyon and over cattle lands. I got out my camera to photograph the passing freight train and the engineer blew the whistle and waved.

We saw a guy running with a follow van as part of a coast-to-coast cancer fundraising challenge. A car passed once every so often. Hills glowed.

A lovely early Saturday evening ride.

A lovely early Saturday evening ride.

Kremmling appeared in the distance and the clock struck 8:30 p.m. just as we rolled into town. Success!

We got our brevet cards signed at the Rocky Mountain Bar & Grill and they served us dinner. Turns out they did not close until 10 p.m., so we had time to eat there. I ordered dessert too.

Our hotel was the nearby Allington Inn, which was kind of pricey but new and very comfortable. It was a long day for touring, but one of our most memorable ever.

Day Two: Kremmling to Glenwood Springs
Mileage: 89.5
Road Surface: Paved, hardpack gravel, paved bike path
Difficulty: Medium
Conditions: Sunny, hot — low 90s.
Route and elevation profile: here at Garmin Connect, and here at Ridewithgps.

After breakfast and a passable espresso at the Moose Cafe in Kremmling, we tooled over the days only long climbs via the hardpack gravel County Road 1, which runs along the Colorado River. At Mile 27 we descended to the outdoor concert venue and river access point known as State Bridge Landing. After a few miles of paved road we turned onto the hardpack Colorado River Road to the 20-mile bike path into Glenwood Springs.

County Road 1: Next stop State Bridge Landing.

County Road 1: Next stop State Bridge Landing.

Along CR 1 views of the Colorado River and dry scrub land stretched in all directions. Trucks carrying inflatable boats and kayaks made a regular appearance as we mixed in with the river rat and fishing enthusiasts.

State Bridge, a little outdoor entertainment and camping enclave where the party crowd was just stirring at 11:30 a.m., offered the only notable rest stop. We feasted on tasty blackened fish sandwiches and sodas from a vendor truck and took some snacks to eat later.

Overlooking the Colorado River.

Overlooking the Colorado River.

Colorado River Road was hot and dry, but the river’s growing size and strength kept us entertained. There was almost no shade and we stopped to take advantage of the shelter at the Burns post office and then again at a bend in the road with some trees. We left State Bridge with three full water bottles, full 70-oz. Camelbaks, and Cokes for the Burns stop, which got us through this long stretch without services.

The Glenwood path took us into town but was a narrow in places and had occasional foot traffic, so we had to keep our speed in check. At Glenwood we went directly to our Courtyard hotel across the river from the tourist area near the springs and we missed the sights.

That was OK by us. After the big ride Saturday and the heat of Sunday, we were pretty tired. We stayed put in the hotel area for the evening and ate dinner at a chain place nearby. Next time I want to see more of Glenwood.

Day Three: Glenwood Springs to Paonia
Mileage: 77
Road Surface: Paved roads, paved bike path
Difficulty: Medium
Conditions: Sunny, afternoon headwinds.
Route and elevation profile: GPS at Garmin Connect, Route at Ridewithgps.

The first two days caught up with us this morning and we struggled to get in sync about breakfast. We went into Glenwood’s older downtown for espresso and food with a couple of pointers from Yelp.

But, nothing looked right at first and we (really, me, since I was on the espresso mission) u-turned a couple of times trying to decide what to do, while avoiding urgent Monday morning car traffic.

Finally we went into a touristy coffee & lunch place and got truly terrible espresso. This put me in a bad mood.

We found a good breakfast place next door, however, and noticed another coffeenhouse nearby, The Bluebird Cafe. It was the real deal and sold me a very tasty doppio.

A few years of touring has taught us that mornings can be stressful when we’re tired and hungry and have no exact place to alight. This knowledge helped us avoid a tandem team meeting, and it was all behind us soon enough.

The bike trail south of Glenwood Springs.

The bike trail south of Glenwood Springs.

After a few miles south on the bike path with some local roadie cyclists, we stopped in quaint Carbondale at Ajax Bike & Sport. Aaron and gang gave us some excellent local knowledge and encouragement.

A great stop in Carbondale.

A great stop in Carbondale.

Next stop: a second espresso and treat at lovely Bonfire Coffee. Next time we’ll consider overnighting in Carbondale if possible rather than Glenwood — much quieter and easy to navigate.

By this time it was late morning and we still had most of the day’s ride ahead, with 8,762 ft. high McClure Pass at Mile 38. Colorado Rt. 133 gradually ascended to the base of the climb, then pitched up more steeply for three miles to the summit.

"-- Job". We covered the same route today as this year's Bicycle Tour of Colorado.

“– Job”. We covered the same route today as this year’s Bicycle Tour of Colorado.

We hit the climb after one more stop in the little resort community of Redstone for snacks and drinks. One the way up we saw a few touring cyclists headed down, but did not find out their group. This climb was not bad and we enjoyed awe-inspiring views in all directions. After photos at the top we blasted down, convinced we could practically coast all the way to Paonia.

A tour group was coming down McClure Pass as we ascended.

A tour group was coming down McClure Pass as we ascended.

On top of McClure Pass. Big payoff for a relatively pleasant climb.

On top of McClure Pass. Big payoff for a relatively pleasant climb.

Not true, of course. While we had a downhill profile, there were enough hills and a strong southern headwind to keep us working. The big coal mine at Somerset loomed and beyond that was little Paonia, a community based on a mix of coal jobs, farming and the local/organic food movement.

Near Paonia, really bad railroad tracks on Bowie Road.

Near Paonia, really bad railroad tracks on Bowie Road.

Imagine a small town where the local businesses are still thriving and people move there to get away from city life. That’s Paonia. Our B&B Fresh and Wyld Farmhouse Inn was a lovely retreat from chain hotels and we had a terrific local food dinner at The Living Farm Cafe.

After getting an ice cream cone at a nearby parlor, we stopped at the pizza place to chat with some folks watching the Tour de France on TV and drinking beer. MG and I strolled a mostly quiet main drag before heading back for a great night’s quiet sleep. This was one of those touring days where we felt at one with the road, the sky and air, and found a community on the upswing.

Stay tuned: I’ll detail the final four days in Part II.

Back to Back Weekend: Two Tandems to Monterey

This last weekend MG and I completed our second overnight tandem touring trip in as many weekends. The goal of our recent riding — and decision not to ride 400K and 600K brevets this year — has been to get our legs in shape for the big mountains of Colorado.

We’re planning an eight-day loop around some of that state’s iconic cycling high points. Think Crested Butte, Leadville, and Trail Ridge Road, among others. I’ll detail more of the route in the coming days.

Anyway, we have been focusing on getting in multiple rides of 150 miles or less, more often. The idea is to get ourselves prepared for the multiple days in the saddle.

Lucky for us in the training department, our tandem randonneur friends John M. and Cindy P. put out a call for company on a mountainous two-day ride out to the picturesque western Virginia Highlands area. It was created by Crista Borras, with whom who we have spent many a happy touring mile.

We were the only takers to their invitation, making it four riders on two Co-Motion tandems.

Two tandems at rest

Two tandems at rest

Day One consists of a 140-mile ride from Middletown, Va. through northeast West Virginia to an overnight stop at in Monterey.

Profile of the Splendor in the Blue Grass 140 mile ride from Strasburg, Va. to Monterey, Va.

Profile of the Splendor in the Blue Grass 140 mile ride from Strasburg, Va. to Monterey, Va.

Day Two is a 120-miler starting with three mountains climbs, then rolling hills on routes that parallel Rt. 11 up the Shenandoah Valley. We ended up at 115 miles because of our hotel start.

Profile of the 115-mile MMMM Ride from Monterey, Va. to Strasburg, Va.

Profile of the 115-mile MMMM Ride from Monterey, Va. to Strasburg, Va.

Crista has made these rides available as self-guided randonneur permanent and populaire events, with time limits. We chose to ride them casually, meaning not for randonneur credit, with a start from a hotel in nearby Strasburg, Va.

They are called Splendor in the Blue Grass and Many Mountains from Monterey to Middletown, or MMMM. One can also ride them in one shot, if you dare: see the 20,000 foot Devil’s Wicked Stepmother 402K permanent. You can see maps of the routes at Crista’s RidewithGPS uploads here and here.

Me at Strasburg

Me at Strasburg

MG in Strasburg

MG in Strasburg

Cindy and John were on their blue-green 650b-wheel custom Speedster that they bought for their Transamerica coast-to-coast trip next month. We were on our new Co-Motion Java with 700c wheels, which we have come to appreciate more and more as we rack up the miles.

See MG’s photos here, mine here and Cindy’s here.

Saturday started out cloudy as we made our way out of the Shenandoah Valley into West Virgina. The skies gradually cleared after a stop at mile 24 in Wardensville and got only brighter after our second stop at the brand new Sheetz in Moorefield at mile 48.

From there we ventured south to the sublime Blue Grass Valley.

Cindy and John over Rt. 55 into West Virginia

Cindy and John over Rt. 55 into West Virginia

The run down CR3/Sweedlin Valley Road was a pure delight, with all shades of green landscape bathed in moderate temperatures of about 80 degrees and light winds. Those are the conditions we wanted after some rainy days in Washington recently.

The view for much of our afternoon.

The view for much of our afternoon.

We also met curiously lost Max, a determined cycletourist from the Ukraine on a mountain bike who was taking a break from his ride from Washington to Denver. He asked us at the Sugar Grove store stop, as he smoked a cigarette, how he might ride around the mountains.

John and I tried to impress on Max that he had to go over them; no other way. “Just look around you,” I said, pointing to the mountain ridges surrounding the store, especially to the west.

John urged him enjoy the spectacular roads and views, and just ride. Max wasn’t so sure.

Us and Max the cyclotourist

Us and Max the cyclotourist

We left him there to ponder his next move. Max: if you read this, let us know how things worked out.

The afternoon was capped by the ride up the lovely, steep Moyers Gap, and then a truly stunning ride along Thorn Creek.

The view from Moyers Gap

The view from Moyers Gap

We finished the day with a stop at the Blue Grass Country Convenience Store (maple candy!) and then the climbs into the too-green-to-be-true Blue Grass Valley and over Monterey Mountain to Monterey for dinner and sleep.

Blue Grass Country Convenience Store

Blue Grass Country Convenience Store

Finally! Dinner in Monterey

Finally! Dinner in Monterey

Sunday came way too early but we got on the bike by 6:15 am for the big climbs out of Monterey and then the rolling hills in the Shenandoah Valley back to Strasburg.

Cindy and John cresting Shenandoah Mountain

Cindy and John cresting Shenandoah Mountain

Rain fell in the afternoon but did not develop into a storm, and by the end of our last rest stop the skies started to clear again.

Lingering rain on Back Road (courtesy MG)

Lingering rain on Back Road (courtesy MG)

By the end we all had 255 miles for the weekend. That’s a 400K, but over two days — and two very enjoyable days.

A good tired, in the Shenandoah Valley

A good tired, in the Shenandoah Valley

Many thanks to Cindy and John, and good luck on your trip! And thanks to my great partner and stoker MG, who kept me going.